Former founding employee and senior executive vice president and director, NTT DoCoMo
Education: Keio University, master's degree in engineering, 1970.
Career: Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) Public Corporation, 1970–1992, engineer; NTT DoCoMo, 1992–2004, company director; 1996–1998, senior vice president; 1998–2001, executive vice president; 2001–2004, senior executive vice president; 2002–2004, managing director of the Global Business Division.
■ Considered a pioneer and a visionary in the mobile phone industry, Shiro Tsuda began his career in 1970 as an engineer for Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) Public Corporation. When the company spun off a mobile phone division 20 years later, Tsuda was a founding employee. In 1992 he was a driving force in developing NTT DoCoMo, which handles NTT's mobile communications operations and sales. DoCoMo came to be considered an independent company, with NTT retaining ownership of 63 percent.
DoCoMo quickly dominated the cell phone market in Japan. One of its early successful ventures was developing i-mode, the first e-mail and Internet service for mobile phones.
In his rise through the DoCoMo executive ranks, Tsuda made significant contributions to the company's growth and development, especially in strategic planning. Throughout his tenure, he proved consistently that he was a problem solver, able to battle through difficulties to achieve his final goal. Tsuda was also a risk-taker and could handle the heat of criticism and propel his company into world leadership. European telecommunications companies had to play catch-up to DoCoMo, thanks to Tsuda's vision. Market analysts generally looked on Tsuda favorably, saying that he achieved a good balance between technology and marketing.
One of Tsuda's most important accomplishments was his leadership in 2001, when DoCoMo launched a new technology that was the first of its kind in the world. FOMA 3G was DoCoMo's third-generation wireless Internet service. Globally, other telecommunications giants had held back on developing the new technology because of economic worries, but under Tsuda's direction, DoCoMo took the lead—and the risk—of bringing a new product into an already saturated market.
Because FOMA 3G service was based on wideband code division multiple access (W-CDMA) technology, it was necessary for Tsuda first to lead an effort to establish W-CDMA as an IMT-2000 global standard. IMT-2000 is a set of globally harmonized standards (defined by the International Telecommunications Union) for third-generation (3G) mobile telecommunications services and equipment. Once that was accomplished, the 3G mobile network was set to launch early in 2001. Last-minute technical glitches and debugging problems plagued DoCoMo, and the launch was delayed, but Tsuda announced in July 2001 that the biggest problems had been solved.
The new network was finally launched in October 2001. It offered wireless phone users video conferencing, high-speed data transmission, music and video download, easy access to the World Wide Web, and even TV-style advertising. The service met with initial criticism because of faulty handsets, short battery life, and incomplete network coverage, and Tsuda was battered by complaints and speculation as the world's market leaders watched DoCoMo's risky rollout.
Under Tsuda's leadership, most of those problems had been solved by 2003, and subscriptions rose. Satisfied with the results at the time, Tsuda said that DoCoMo's forecasts were good and that DoCoMo would do its best to meet the stated targets.
Tsuda said that by 2004 he expected DoCoMo to have in place an advanced service that would allow transmission speeds of up to 14 megabits per second. He expected six million users for 3G service by 2005.
When Tsuda became managing director of DoCoMo in 2002, his eager comment to Time magazine was, "I like—no, I love—this company." His goals for his directorship were to provide new services to Japanese customers, and to expand the company's overseas efforts.
To that end, he was looking closely in 2004 at AT&T Wireless, at that time ranked third in the U.S. market. DoCoMo had acquired 16 percent of AT&T shares. Tsuda expressed interest in maintaining the relationship and keeping a close watch on AT&T's performance.
In April 2004 Tsuda's visionary work at DoCoMo appeared to be about to pay off, as he was tapped to replace the current DoCoMo president, Keiji Tachikawa. Japanese market analysts were impressed with Tsuda's vision and were satisfied with what many saw as an obvious and expected choice. Shinji Moriyuki, a senior telecom analyst at Daiwa Research Institute in Tokyo, made his support public by commenting to Time magazine in 2003 that "Tsuda has a good sense of balance between technology and marketing, and he has the confidence of his co-workers."
But later that month, NTT, DoCoMo's parent company, rejected DoCoMo's first choice, saying officially that the decision was because of Tsuda's background as an engineer rather than as an administrator.
Market analysts speculated that the rejection was part of a power struggle between DoCoMo and its parent company, which still held a majority share of 63 percent.
On May 14, 2004, DoCoMo announced its new slate of officers, topped by Masao Nakamura as president and CEO, and Tsuda resigned.
See also entry on Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories .
Alderman, John, "DoCoMo's First Choice for Next Leader Nixed by NTT," Feature , April 22, 2004.
"Another DoCoMo First: Running into Trouble with 3G," Wired , September 2001.
"DoCoMo Plots Switch at the Top," Japan Times , April 9, 2004.
Frederick, Jim, and Toko Sekiguchi, "He Made Japan CellPhone Crazy," Time , December 1, 2003.
"Japan Rolls Out 3G Phones," Economist Global Agenda , September 3, 2001.
Williams, Martyn, "NTT DoCoMo Again Raises 3G Target," IDG News Service, February 4, 2004.